Real Estate Market News -Homebuilding in Washington in the 1990s

“The decade of the 1990s saw building permits issued throughout Washington for a total of 405,622 housing units, an increase in the state’s housing inventory of nearly 20 percent compared to the just over 2 million residences which existed at the time of the 1990 Census. While 1999 exhibited slightly less construction activity than the year before, it provided the third highest annual total during the decade. The highest level of residential construction was actually achieved in 1990.Multifamily construction, mostly apartments, represented the most volatile component of new construction, with single-family building permits ranging from 23,226 in 1991 to 29,489 in 1994. Throughout the decade a total of 276,840 new single-family homes were built throughout the state. Like total construction, the decade of the 90s saw construction of single-family homes equivalent of 20 percent of 1990’s standing inventory.Just over 100,000 of these new homes were built in King County, followed by Snohomish, Pierce, Clark and Spokane. Those five counties accounted for 271,447 new units, or 2/3 of the state’s new construction. On the other extreme, two counties had fewer than 100 new units constructed during the decade – Garfield’s 33 units and Columbia’s 84 units.The single-family construction was similarly concentrated in urban areas, led by King, followed by Pierce, Snohomish, Clark, Spokane and Thurston. Those six counties tallied 188,324 single-family housing units built, 68.0 percent of the state total. It is noteworthy that the single-family construction was less concentrated in the urban counties than total residential permits. Once again, only Garfield and Columbia counties saw fewer than 100 single-family homes built during the 1990s, 29 and 42 respectively.Construction itself only tells part of the story. The other element is how the new construction relates to population growth. Obviously Washington has seen a surge of new residents during the 1990s, estimated by the Office of Financial Management to total 890,700 persons. This is equivalent to 2.2 persons per unit, a fairly average residential density. Individual counties varied widely around this aggregate. Units were built to an average density of 0.82 persons in San Juan County. At the other extreme the new construction in Adams County would have accommodated new residents in Adams County at a density of 7 persons per unit. Among the large, urban counties, only King saw new construction capable of accommodating fewer than 2 persons per unit.Of course, these persons per unit measures are statistical constructs only, calculated as if all units were occupied at the beginning of the period, and all the units constructed were occupied at the end of the period. Nevertheless, they are an indicator of how well new construction matched the population growth experienced by individual counties. In general, over the course of the entire decade, the housing construction matched local population growth quite well in most communities.Glenn E. Crellin is director of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at Washington State University.”